Tuesday, January 29, 2008

a day off?

“For certain days, even weeks on end, work can shape every hour (23).” Henry describes how he and his wife Rosalind are so busy with the demands of their respective occupations that they must attempt to schedule the rest of their lives accordingly. However, McEwan shows that it is not only Henry’s schedule, but also his thoughts, that are inextricably linked to his occupation as a neurosurgeon. As McEwan intimately follows Henry’s consciousness throughout his day off, we discover that this is no day off after all. Neurology weaves its way through Henry’s activities as he attempts to understand every person and explain every situation by way of precious, calculated science.

Upon waking up in the wee hours of his Saturday morning, Henry immediately wonders what “chemical accident” could have occurred in his brain causing him to wake (4). Looking from his window at the square below, Henry analyzes the people passing through it, even going so far as to diagnose one girl as a heroin addict after he sees her continually scratching her back, presumably a result of “amphetamine driven formication” (58). During his first encounter with Baxter, he notes the man’s “poor self-control, emotional lability, [and] explosive temper” as early signs of Huntington’s disease, an observation that would have evaded the attention of the average person.

Neurosurgery offers Henry a sense of control that he wishes to extend into other areas of his life. At work, Henry feels at ease because he knows “precisely what he’s doing,” but outside of the hospital, Henry loses this feeling of power and security. Thus, we see Henry constantly analyzing every situation in terms of neurology, perhaps in order to make him feel as though he still has everything under control as he does in the operating room. When Henry finally finds himself back in the hospital despite his scheduled day off, he discovers "he's happier than at any other point on his day off" (266).

1 comment:

Erin Sells said...

Henry is a workaholic, and I think he's fortunate that his wife is as well, otherwise his home-life might have suffered even more for his inability to take a break.

This is a complicated issue in the novel: everyone should be so fortunate as to love what they do for a living, but at what point does the blessing become a curse?

My guess is: maybe when someone invades your home and attacks your family because you didn't know when or how to transition between being "Dr. Perowne" and being "Henry"?